By Polly Guerin, The Fashion Historian
Although doctors blamed the corset for a wide variety of diseases most of those diagnoses were unsupported, but more dangerous was the fact that corsets did alter the body’s shape. Such a distortion of the natural body implicated the corset in aggravating existing conditions and digestive problems. The squeezing of vital organs from their original position in the body may also have contributed to the inability to bear children normally. Furthermore, as a status symbol, the corset limited a woman’s mobility and it suggested that she could afford servants and needed a ‘lady’s maid’ just to get dressed. Even working class women succumbed to the allure of the corset and adopted cheap ready-made versions.
THE FAINTING COUCH
Striving to achieve the “ideal” figure, a woman was convinced that her waist was too large and accepted tight lacing to achieve a feminine 13-16 inch waist. Hence a "straight-laced woman” was not loose. As the corset was cinched tighter and tighter (think of Scarlet O'Hara in Gone With the Wind telling her maid “tighter, tighter”) it may have produced the desired small waist, but it also reduced a woman’s lung capacity. Getting vapors was an obvious result ,as tight corsets were the cause shortness of breath and fainting was a common occurrence. Hence, men came to the aid of a damsel in distress and smelling salts were summoned. To the cognoscenti a fainting couch was considered fashionable furniture of the day.
Books of interest: FASHION AND EROTICISM, IDEAL OF FEMININE BEAUTY FROM THE VICTORIAN ERA TO THE JAZZ AGE by Valerie Steele, Oxford University Press and LET THERE BE CLOTHES by Lynn Schnurnberger, Workman Publishing.♥
Polly Guerin never wore a boned corset but is fascinated by the seductive world of corsetry and the role it played in women’s lives. Polly honed her fashion historian skills as a professor at The Fashion Institute of Technology and wrote THE TIES THAT BIND, A GUIDE TO HISTORICALLY CORRECT UNDERGARMENTS for doll enthusiasts. (Doll World magazine)